games science

The Mute Button — Wait But Why

The Mute Button — Wait But Why

That is Chapter 5 in a collection. In case you’re new to the collection, go to the collection residence page for the complete table of contents.

Chapter 5: The Mute Button


Up to now, we’ve talked rather a lot concerning the Primitive Thoughts and the Greater Thoughts, and the strange rigidity they create in our heads. This chapter, we’re going to zoom out a bit and convey two new characters into the combination.

The first isn’t a new character exactly—it’s the combined workings of the Primitive Mind and Greater Thoughts: the Internal Self.

The Inside Self is the product of the wrestle between the Primitive Thoughts and the Greater Mind. At any given moment, the best way the Internal Self thinks and feels, what it believes, its values and motivations, are a reflection of the state of that wrestle. For our purposes on this chapter, we’ll solely fear concerning the Inside Self as an entire.

The second character is someone we haven’t talked about, but somebody everyone knows properly.

The Outer Self.

The Outer Self is the human physique the Internal Self lives in. The state of the Inside Self determines how the Outer Self behaves—where it goes, the way it acts, who it spends time with, what it says or doesn’t say. So the Outer Self isn’t really an unbiased entity—it’s extra like an enormous robotic being managed by the Internal Self, who sits in a bit cockpit in its head.

Let’s return once again to the concept of emergence and think about how it works with brains.

Your brain is a big made up of a network of 100 billion neurons. A neuron on its own can’t do an excessive amount of.

It’s the neurons’ capacity to speak with one another—to export info by way of their axons and import info via their dendrites—that permits them to maneuver up Emergence Tower and mix collectively into a single considering system that’s much more powerful than the sum of its elements:

The same phenomenon occurs a couple of floors up, on the human degree. A bunch of individuals together, however not communicating, is only a bunch of particular person brains in the identical place.

Language is so magical because it allows particular person brains to connect, like neurons, to type a larger considering system. If a human’s Inside Self is like a neuron, the Outer Self’s means to precise itself provides the neuron its axons, and its potential to see or take heed to the expression of others provides it dendrites.

These channels let particular person human brains mix collectively to type a larger communal mind.

People can type brains of all totally different sizes, depending on the variety of individuals speaking with each other.

There’s no restrict on how giant a mind people can meld into. In human societies, vast interconnected gossip networks, with the help of tools of mass broadcast,1 permit hundreds of communal brains to shortly connect, turning big parts of a society into big considering methods.

In principle, with sufficient communication, a whole country with tens of millions of individuals might grow to be a colossal nationwide mind.2

By means of the magic of communication, human considering can glide up and down Emergence Tower.

How we expect is a serious matter in this collection, and within the subsequent few chapters I’ll be introducing numerous tools to assist us think about considering. Collectively, these tools might be an enormous a part of the new language we’re engaged on creating.

The first device is an easy concept spectrum.

The thought spectrum provides us a visible option to depict the whole vary of thought on any given matter. Like a political problem:

Or an opinion vary:

With binary questions, we may give the thought spectrum two colours and use it to look at the “diploma of certainty” range:

In fact, the thought spectrum is a reasonably inflexible software—it’s linear and one-dimensional—and most worlds of thought are more complicated and contain multiple dimensions simultaneously. However most of these worlds may also be roughly explored on a easy concept spectrum, and for our functions, oversimplifying areas of thought to single spectrums may help us see what’s happening. We’re going to use lots of concept spectrums in this collection, and as we do, keep in mind to take them with a grain of salt as a simplified model of actuality.

On any given concept spectrum, what a person thinks or believes or hypothesizes is where their Inside Self is “standing” on the spectrum.3

And let’s colour the Inside Self’s brain-head the color of what it believes concerning the matter:

To visualize how we will use the thought spectrum, let’s go to a small, 1,000-person country referred to as Hypothetica, the place we find the residents mulling over a subject—let’s call it Matter X. Wanting at the color-coded Internal Selves of all Hypotheticans collectively can show us what everyone thinks about Matter X.

Cute. The one drawback is, this image doesn’t really tell us that a lot. To know what the Hypotheticans really think about Matter X, let’s flip these brains into little circles and manage them by stacking them on prime of the Concept Spectrum.

Far more fascinating. We will clean this out into a single object whose peak represents the commonness of every viewpoint along the thought spectrum. We will name it the Thought Pile.

The Thought Pile is a visible representation of how the country feels about Matter X. By itself, the Thought Pile just isn’t a higher-emergence big. Keep in mind, the phenomenon of emergence is many small elements combining together into a larger entity that’s greater than the sum of its elements. The Thought Pile represents a big group of individual viewpoints, all isolated from one another like a pile of disconnected neurons, equaling the exact sum of its elements. That’s why a Thought Pile alone continues to be on the “individual animal” degree of Emergence Tower—it’s simply a big group of items at that degree.

To truly move up Emergence Tower and turn into a larger communal mind, neurons have to communicate with one another. That is the place the Outer Self comes in.

The Outer Self has a location on the thought spectrum too—a location that represents what a person outwardly says they consider the topic.

We will shade their heads too. The colour of the Outer Self’s head represents the point of view an individual expresses on Matter X.

We will make a logo that depicts the situation of both the Internal Self and Outer Self:

Each parts of this image might be color-coded. The colour of the brain exhibits what the individual is considering on the inside—the color of the circle is what they’re saying on the surface.

When a person is being genuine and saying what they really assume, the Inside Self and Outer Self are standing in the identical spot on the thought spectrum.

So right here, both parts of our symbol are the identical colour, allowing the thoughts of the Inside Self to move unimpeded by way of the Outer Self and out into the world.

When a gaggle of individuals are all saying what they’re considering, their brains join collectively like communicating neurons.

Likewise, when the residents of Hypothetica are actively expressing their minds about Matter X, their Inside Selves wire together into an enormous considering network.

But is the network actually an enormous mind?

Principally, the Hypotheticans are speaking in little groups of two or 5 or ten. Which suggests it’s extra like a bunch of these teams coexisting than a single considering system:

Positive, individuals socialize in a number of circles, so concepts born in small group discussions can journey into other small group discussions—however to assume as one huge mind, the Hypotheticans need to be able to have more system-wide, coordinated thought.

This is where mass broadcast comes in.

In Hypothetica, there’s the large national newspaper, Hypothetica At the moment, which just about each Hypothetican reads. And there’s the storied Hypothetica Colosseum, the place plenty of Hypotheticans gather to listen to sermons from the nation’s major thought leaders or watch exhibits where comedians interview Hypothetica’s celebrities. Every of Hypothetica’s districts also has its personal local newspaper and its personal smaller city hall for native exhibits.

These forums permit certain people to precise their ideas to a whole lot of people suddenly. Beneath regular circumstances, the ideas circulating most steadily across the small conversations in Hypothetica end up discovering their approach onto these larger levels.

We will characterize these platforms with a megaphone. The colour of the megaphone represents the point of view being expressed by means of it. And the larger the megaphone, the larger the listening audience.

Hypothetica, as a small nation, has two main megaphone tiers—national and local. Under these tiers are the lower tiers made up of the lots of of group conversations, and the ground-floor tier made up of a thousand individual considering minds.

These tiers all feed off each other. New concepts are born in individual minds and in group conversations, and the most well liked ideas stand up into the bigger forums, where they’re mentioned and debated in entrance of tons of of individuals. What’s stated on the larger levels stokes new conversations on the lower tiers and new ideas within the minds of particular person audience members.

Each of the tiers performs its own necessary position—nevertheless it’s the megaphone’s potential to hook up with plenty of brains simultaneously that welds the whole thing collectively. Mass broadcast channels wire their means via the smaller pockets of the Hypothetica brain, bringing a unity to the nation’s discussions that turns a thousand individuals right into a single considering system.



Now of all the concepts out there, which of them find yourself with megaphone distribution? Let’s take a look at the way it may work with Matter X by turning our tiers right into a vertical expression axis that enhances the horizontal concept spectrum.

In concept, each concept along an concept spectrum might be outwardly expressed at each tier of the expression axis.

But for expression to develop into communication, it requires participation from both expresser and listener—it requires consideration. And a spotlight is a limited useful resource. The megaphone platforms are companies, and to remain afloat they need the concepts on their platforms to garner a adequate degree of interest. Some individuals wish to take heed to a wide variety of viewpoints, but on combination, individuals are typically desirous about hearing from like-minded individuals. So the Thought Pile can function a reasonably good proxy for the amount of consideration obtainable to each viewpoint across Matter X.

The upper the tier, the extra the distributors have to attraction to a large audience, so the extra they’ll hunt down ideas with widespread interest:

In the case of Matter X, solely probably the most commonly held viewpoints in the blue-to-purple vary are capable of get much airtime in the national newspaper and the national colosseum. Much less widespread ideas in the green or pink areas don’t draw national consideration, but they’ve a large sufficient audience to get some play in the local newspapers and city halls. The much more out-there concepts are discussed within smaller communities, and probably the most fringe yellow and orange concepts will not often get attention outdoors of the dinner tables of those that consider them.

This phenomenon signifies that all concepts alongside the spectrum have an expression ceiling—the most important stage that can help it, given the curiosity it generates. The expression ceilings for the concepts within Matter X are highlighted under.

Connecting the dots with these ceilings provides us a line that matches up fairly properly with the highest of the Thought Pile.

This an necessary line that we’ll call the Speech Curve. We’re going to be taking a look at a whole lot of Speech Curves in this collection, so let’s make it pretty.

The Speech Curve is known as the Speech Curve as a result of it exhibits us the higher restrict on how “loudly” every viewpoint is being expressed alongside a given concept spectrum—with loudness on this case referring to the dimensions of the most important stage on which the thought is being persistently expressed. While the Thought Pile lets us visualize what a inhabitants’s collective Inside Selves are desirous about a subject, the Speech Curve exhibits us what their Outer Selves are saying concerning the matter.

(Quick confusion-avoiding notice: The y-dimension of the Thought Pile and Speech Curve are comparable, but not exactly the same. The Thought Pile’s y-axis metric is the variety of individuals considering each viewpoint, while the Speech Curve’s y-axis is the dimensions of the stage on which each viewpoint is being expressed—how publicly every viewpoint is being expressed—which can typically but not all the time correlate with the variety of individuals expressing that viewpoint. An exception can be a viewpoint that everyone is talking about in personal but, because it’s a delicate matter, maintaining quiet about in huge public boards. A state of affairs like that might yield a low Speech Curve value regardless that the variety of individuals talking concerning the concept is high.)

With a subject on which everyone seems to be freely saying what they assume, the form of the Speech Curve for that matter sits neatly on prime of the Thought Pile. The issues individuals are considering probably the most will even end up being stated on the most important platforms, and the perimeter viewpoints shall be relegated to fringe platforms.

On its own, the Thought Pile is just the potential for an enormous mind. Only when it rests beneath the Speech Curve does a Thought Pile mild up with colour, activating into higher-emergence thought.

Keep in mind the large orange big from Half 1? The one controlled by strings? Properly when the individual brains in a human big can freely talk with each other, the enormous itself wakes up, creating the power to assume for itself.

Whereas the Thought Pile exhibits us what the individuals are considering, the Speech Curve exhibits us what the enormous is considering. And when the 2 are aligned, the enormous is considering completely clearly.

Which is nice. Until you’re a dictator.

When the Enlightenment obtained rolling, the standard nation seemed like this:

In an effort to pull off the dictator gig, you had to management the story your big believed. Which suggests you actually didn’t want your big considering for itself. Because an enormous that may assume for itself may fairly shortly do that:

This is the reason a dictator’s favorite word is:

Taking a look at it from the attitude of a person, censorship is control over what individuals can say. And as people ourselves, this is what we often assume censorship is. But from a perspective greater up on Emergence Tower, censorship is control over what an enormous can assume. To an enormous, censorship is thoughts control.

One factor I haven’t mentioned is that Hypothetica is a totalitarian dictatorship, led by the highly tyrannical King Mustache.

It’s not that King Mustache needs to exert universal thoughts management over his Hypothetica big. Usually, King Mustache might care less what individuals are speaking about. However with sensitive subjects—like, say, the rights of the lower caste, or the depiction of a rival nation, or the notion of historic occasions—it’s a unique story. It’s not that dictators need to forestall the enormous from serious about those subjects, it’s that they need to control precisely what the enormous is considering.

And on this case, it seems that Matter X is definitely “Opinions of King Mustache”—which is about as sensitive a topic as King Mustache can think about.

When King Mustache appears at that spectrum, he sees a lot of highly inconvenient viewpoints. There’s not much he can do concerning the Thought Pile, since he can’t management what individuals assume—but he can do one thing concerning the Speech Curve.

So he does precisely what the Johnsons did once they needed to regulate Moochie—he places up an electrical fence. He makes an ironclad set of legal guidelines to make sure that certain viewpoints, if expressed publicly sufficient, will end in instant imprisonment or execution.

Beneath the king’s policy, anybody who utters a frowned-upon viewpoint on a public stage—a star, a journalist, a politician—is promptly zapped out of existence by the censorship fence. For the additional inconvenient viewpoints on the far left aspect of the spectrum, the electrical fence threatens even those that categorical them in more personal settings, as the government hires secret moles within communities to snitch on blasphemers. A number of good public zappings of speech transgressors is often all it takes to generate a wide-ranging silence, because the censorship fence shortly becomes the new Speech Curve for that matter. Silenced areas of the Thought Pile fall dormant, unraveling down Emergence Tower where they’re not capable of perform as a higher-emergence entity.

With the megaphones not allowed to mirror the true ideas of the Thought Pile back at the plenty, Hypothetica loses its capability to perform as an enormous mind—at the least on this matter. The censored ideas, though still widespread, can’t develop or evolve or achieve any traction. Which is strictly what King Mustache needs.

Meanwhile, beyond prohibiting that which can’t be stated, the electric fence also emphasizes what must be stated. Particularly on the massive platforms, the king’s most popular viewpoints at the moment are repeated advert nauseam—receiving a far brighter highlight than the Thought Pile would normally warrant.

Censorship takes a single region shaped by an aligned Thought Pile and Speech Curve and turns it into three areas by generating two “censorship gaps.”

Censorship policies must be put in by pressure at first, however once they’re in place, they have a tendency to stay in place. Because when a inhabitants of individuals can’t talk with one another, they turn out to be less communally lucid. When individuals aren’t saying what they’re considering, the actual form of the Thought Pile becomes guesswork. False assumptions about citizen sentiment haven’t any method of being corrected, and everybody starts to go slightly loopy.

Let’s take a better take a look at why. When, for one cause or another, what somebody is saying is totally different than what they really assume, their Inside Self and Outer Self are in separate locations on the thought spectrum.

With their Outer Self broadcasting totally different beliefs than the Internal Self holds, the ideas of the Internal Self turn out to be hidden in an individual’s head, remoted from the surface world.

From the communal brain perspective, the place each individual human mind is a single neuron, it’s as if the axons of the neurons have been hijacked, which ceases any real neural communication.

The macro effect of that is incredibly powerful. Underneath King Mustache’s iron fist, virtually no one dares to say the mistaken thing—it’s simply not value it. Taking a look at our community diagram, we will see all Outer Self circles now turned the king’s most popular shade, quarantining other colors safely inside the skulls of each human neuron and preventing them from getting into the wider community.

And the factor is, no Hypotheticans can truly see what we’re seeing right here. We’re taking a look at a cross-section of everyone’s head that exhibits us both what they’re considering and what they’re saying. However in the actual world, what individuals are considering is hidden from sight—the one info we’ve about other individuals’s viewpoints is what they are saying out loud or do outwardly. So to any given Hypothetican, their society looks like this:

So should you’re this individual—

—regardless of truly being surrounded by super thought variety, you may very properly assume that you simply’re the only individual considering what you’re considering, and that the nation’s brains seem like this:

In the absence of anonymous surveys (which King Mustache banned a very long time in the past), the Thought Pile is invisible to citizens. All a citizen can see is the shape of the Speech Curve—which they typically mistakenly assume to be the shape of the Thought Pile.

In fact, even the scariest censorship policies will fail to be airtight.

However a censorship policy doesn’t need to be hermetic to accomplish its aim. In case you can block concepts from reaching the higher-tier expression platforms, you quarantine the concepts inside small, isolated pockets. As a result of if individuals can be trustworthy with each other in personal but nonetheless abide by the censorship guidelines in public, they appear to everyone else to carry the king’s most popular views.

Containing the expression of banned viewpoints to small teams prevents the viewpoints from touring anyplace and gaining any momentum within the national big’s massive brain.

Over the long term, censorship insurance policies generate the sort of self-perpetuating loop we talked about in Half 1. The absence of banned concepts in outward conversation makes it straightforward to indoctrinate youngsters and impressionable adults into truly believing the dictator’s most popular viewpoints.

In her TED Speak, Yeonmi Park, who grew up in North Korea and escaped, defined: “Rising up in North Korea, we really believed that our Pricey Leader is an almighty god who may even learn my thoughts. I used to be even afraid to assume in North Korea.”4

When the Speech Curve is pressured into place for lengthy enough, the Thought Pile itself begins to morph closer to its shape.

For all these causes, of all a dictator’s possessions, probably the most valuable one is his mute button.

By silencing certain ideas, the mute button prevents the enormous from having the improper thoughts. And when you possibly can control an enormous’s ideas, you’ll be able to control the enormous’s actions.

In the Energy Games, somebody is often holding a mute button over your head, lining your discourse with electric fences. And usually, the only means for a population to reclaim the facility of collective free thought is to try to out-cudgel the dictator. Those are the two options of the Power Video games: silence or violence.


The Enlightenment was aggressively anti-mute-button. And the newly liberated People have been intent on making their young nation a mute-button-free zone, something expressly said in the Invoice of Rights’ 45-word First Amendment:

Congress shall make no regulation respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the liberty of speech, or of the press; or the suitable of the individuals peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Authorities for a redress of grievances.

Pulled out from the larger group of First Modification liberties, we see that the American notion of free speech comes down to ten words:

Congress shall make no regulation abridging the liberty of speech

Congress shall erect no electric fences. Congress shall train no mind management over the enormous. Congress shall make no mute button.

These essential ten words mean that speech of any type is all the time legal and protected. Properly, not speech of any type—keep in mind the Hurt Principle:

Everyone can do no matter they want, so long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.

Freedom of speech is a part of our inexperienced circle of rights—the “everyone can do no matter they need” a part of the statement. But as soon as speech harms someone else—when you’ve crossed over into somebody’s purple circle and violated their inalienable rights—it turns into restricted speech and is not authorized.

So on the subject of our freedom to “swing our arms” in what we say, what exactly constitutes hitting another person’s nose? The federal government uses particular terms to outline what constitutes dangerous and subsequently restricted speech. Like:1

  • Incitement — e.g. yelling “hearth” in a crowded theater to set off a stampede
  • Preventing phrases — not violence itself, but speech that is aimed toward inciting violence in others
  • Defamation — publicly saying deliberately false issues about someone which can injury the individual’s status in a dangerous approach—referred to as “libel” when in writing and “slander” when it’s spoken
  • Perjury — knowingly mendacity underneath oath
  • Extortion — using blackmail of some sort to pressure somebody to comply together with your needs
  • False advertising — e.g. mendacity concerning the specs of a pc you’re selling
  • Plagiarism of copyrighted materials — publishing another person’s phrases or art as your personal
  • Obscenity — e.g. public masturbation
  • Youngster pornography — okay we received it

Additional, as a inexperienced circle proper, free speech on personal property continues to be topic to the property owner’s guidelines. The freedom to make one’s own rules on one’s own property supersedes freedom of speech, so you might be silenced or even kicked out of a personal area if your ideas aren’t fashionable. In public spaces, then again, your freedom of speech trumps someone else’s freedom to wish you’d shut the fuck up.

But except for these specific instances, speech is nearly by no means unlawful. It’s pretty exhausting in the US to get yourself sent to prison for one thing you say.

When the First Modification was ratified in 1791, such a broad proper to freedom of speech was extremely unusual around the globe. Even in comparatively liberal locations at the time, speech was much more restricted—it was unlawful in England on the time, for example, to publicly criticize the government.

The First Modification was a revolution for the Outer Self. Whether in speech or some other form of legal expression, you can not be punished by the federal government for being on the surface who you have been on the inside. With the nation’s human neurons capable of freely connect, the US organism can be a lot more like an enormous human being with a thoughts of its own than an enormous dumb orange monster big that’s managed by strings.

But how do tens of millions of citizens, holding a variety of views, typically in furious conflict with one another, truly perform as a single brain in follow? How does the mind type opinions? How does it study new things? How does it make concrete selections, and how does it change its thoughts?

We’ll explore all that in the remaining chapter of Half 2.

Chapter 6: The American Mind



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Comply with me into darkness:


What Makes You You – an existential crisis subject journey  

The Fermi Paradox – another existential crisis subject journey

Why Bugs Wreck All the things – my private existential crisis area journey

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